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THE OUTDOORS ALMANAC | MIGRATIONS

Space dust spectacle

August 10, 2004|Bonnie Obremski

Tips for star partyers this week: Grab a tent, find a campsite with a wide-angle view of the heavens, zip into your sleeping bag facing northeast, stare at the sky all night. OK, maybe from 2 a.m. on, and certainly just before dawn. Astronomers predict pebble-sized particles chipped off the Comet Swift-Tuttle around the time of the Civil War as well as 1,000-year-old bits of celestial trash to streak through the sky Wednesday and Thursday night in what may be the best Perseid meteor shower display since 1997. Serious stargazers will be streaming out to the darkest parts of the desert or mountains to watch the show. Bill Cooke, a self-described space garbage man who tracks star-strewn debris on computer simulators for NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., predicts as many as 200 meteors per hour will stream across the Milky Way. Earth's simultaneous spin through a filament of space dust boosts the intensity of the streak show. And there's no moon around to flood the sky with light. The comet itself swings within viewing range every 120 years or so; it was last seen in 1992 when some feared it would collide with Earth. Light-drenched city dwellers should look for especially bright debris with long, colorful trails that shoot from the horizon called Earth grazers. The Devil's Punchbowl Nature Center in Pearblossom plans a stargazing event starting at 9 p.m. Thursday ([661] 944-2743). If you miss this round of meteor dust, the Leonids, pictured below, roll through on Nov. 17. Just keep looking up.

-- Bonnie Obremski

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